Monday, March 24, 2014

On Call, Vol. 3, No. 1 - From the Hospital Review Board: Romance, Nepotism and Fraternization at St. Elsewhere


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 3, number 1, June, 1999.

From the early days of soap operas, hospitals have provided the perfect venue for the art of love, with doctors and nurses proving that they really could "operate" while on duty. In the 1960's, Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey prescribed raging hormones for prime time, and they were followed by '70s hunks Chad Everett (Medical Center) and James Brolin (Marcus Welby). Today, love in the TV hospital is commonplace, as romantic relationships offer us a more rounded view of characters in shows like Chicago Hope and ER.

But it was St. Elsewhere in the 1980s that elevated medical drama libidos to a new high. Nearly every member of the St. Elsewhere ensemble became romantically involved, and many did so several times. The irony is that St. Elsewhere was and still is the model for how television dramas deal with serious, topical issues, and the model for how those issues are advanced primarily inside the four walls of a hospital. Christina Pickles used to hear from fans that St. Elsewhere was "only good when the characters stayed in the hospital." Yet, Tom Fontana, John Masius and the gang managed to fill each season with sex (either direct or implied) that helped to better define the characters and give them deeper meaning to the motivations behind their actions. Speaking with ON CALL publisher Jim Longworth for his upcoming book, Above the Line: Conversations with TV's Top Producers, Tom Fontana explained his approach to character development.

TOM FONTANA ... "Every character that I create, I create three parts to him or her. One is the mind, one is the heart, and one is (for lack of a better word) the genitalia. In other words, what do they think about? What makes them weep and laugh, and what makes them want to make love? That is universal whether they're doctors, cops, criminals, or my Aunt Tilly."

But if these component parts are universal, and if television is only a reflection of life, then Fontana and pals had a good source of inspiration. Backstage at MTM, despite Grant Tinker's disdain for nepotism, there was plenty of real life matchmaking going on, which made the set a real family affair. Together, the numerous off-screen as well as on-screen pairings contributed to a brilliant product, and we will attempt to review both in this article.

"GENTLE BEN"

Old flames - Birney, Fielding
First there was Dr. Ben Samuels (played by David Birney), one of the most self-absorbed Lotharios in the history of medical dramas. And though we only watched him in action for one season, we were treated to a number of his amorous activities.

In "Release" (episode #12), Ben and Dr. Nancy Paxton (played by Dorothy Fielding) revive their ten-year-old love affair, but things start to break apart over a professional dispute. Samuels questions Nancy's diagnosis and goes over her head to Westphall. It is in episode #17 ("Brothers")* though, in which we learn of Samuels' capacity for lovemaking. Somewhere along the way to his many conquests, he contracts venereal disease, then has to "make the rounds", informing recent partners of his predicament. Towards the end of the first season, Samuels has a brief fling with Dr. Annie Cavanero, but she escapes his "infectious" behaviour.

And while his alter ego generated sparks with the medical staff, Birney himself didn't seem to have the right chemistry for St. Elsewhere. He departed at the end of the first season to explore greener pastures.

"BEAUTY QUEEN BOLTS"

Cynthia Sikes hung around for three seasons, and after she departed, the writers made reference to the fact that Cavanero had accepted a position with "Birney Memorial". Throughout her three-year run, and for whatever reason, the writers kept Cavanero pretty much sexually inactive, despite her striking beauty. That all came to head both on and off-screen when Sikes was asked to scenes (#53 "Up on the Roof" and #54 "Girls Just Want to Have Fun") in which she allowed a visiting female doctor (played by Caroline McWilliams) to share her apartment, only to find that the house guest was a lesbian.

Coming out party - Sikes, McWilliams
CYNTHIA SIKES ... "I left because I had a problem with this story line. It was the way in which the story line was going to be handled that I didn't feel comfortable with, and the inner workings of my relationship with a couple of people there which had had a lot to do with it. I didn't do the show the way they wanted. I did a different version. They had to rewrite it. We didn't agree on the artistic expression, so it just became time to go."

The late Brandon Tartikoff, in his book The Last Great Ride, recalled that the incident reached his office.

BRANDON TARTIKOFF ... "One of the best performances I ever saw involved an actress who had recurring role on St. Elsewhere. The producers of the show had created a story line in which she had a provocative encounter with a lesbian. So there actress sat in Jeff Sagansky's office at NBC, bawling her eyes out, claiming the producers had inserted the scene because they knew about her own strict moral beliefs, and were trying to induce her to quit the show. She was certain, she told us, that they had her replacement waiting in make-up. By the end of the session, Jeff and I were welling up as well. 'Why don't you guys just leave the poor girl alone?', Jeff later pleaded with Bruce Paltrow, the Producer. 'You're pushing her to the brink of a breakdown.' Bruce laughed at us. 'Congratulations guys,' he said. 'She doesn't have the best range of any actress I've ever worked with, but the one trick in her bag is that she can cry on cue. And you bozos bought it!'"

"SEXIEST MAN ALIVE"

Two beauties - Harmon, Stafford
Dr. Bobby Caldwell was Samuels' heir apparent in the sexual activity category, but where Birney brought a wholesome type of "Lotharioism" (Norman, is that word?) to the proceedings, Mark Harmon's depiction showed us the dark side of sex. He was called on the carpet for sexual harassment (episode #77, "Sanctuary") and even his fling with hospital-based City official Joan Halloran (Nancy Stafford) was strained because of his desire to be free to roam. Caldwell's insatiable sexual appetite brought about his eventual demise - first having his face slashed by a psycho cabin date, and then by becoming the first starring character on prime time television to contract, and then die from, heterosexual AIDS.

Harmon's portrayal of the infected Caldwell was intense, but, nevertheless, educational for millions of American viewers, who had, theretofore, never been exposed to the dreaded disease. Also, in Mark Craig's attempt to push Caldwell out due to HIV, we also had our first exposure to workplace prejudice. All of these issues were pioneered on St. Elsewhere and are still topical today. Caldwell, despite his dark side was handsome and competent, two qualities that caused a young patient (episode #66, "Tears of a Clown") with Neurofibromatosis (Elephant Man's disease) to fall for his charms. Caldwell was, on balance, good with and for his patients, and his biggest supporter was Helen Rosenthal, for whom he did reconstructive surgery after she lost her breast to cancer.

Still, to Bobby, most women were an addiction, whereas Ben Samuels had seen tham as objects of his egocentric affections. The balance between the two hunks was Dr. Wayne Fiscus.

"HORNY and HEART"

Fiscus (Howie Mandel) genuinely loved women, and, despite his annoying jabs and sexual innuendoes toward female staff, he was respectful of them as human beings. Like an old Catskills comic, Fiscus could turn on a dime, first acting concerned for a female colleague, then shifting gears with a sexually charged zinger that made the recipient cring.

Perhaps Fiscus' most poignant scene with a member of the opposite sex took place in the ON CALL locker room when Dr. Jackie Wade (Sagan Lewis), still in shock over her divorce, sits catatonic and begins undressing, oblivious that Wayne is in the room.

SAGAN LEWIS ... "Fiscus says 'Jackie, you're naked', and originally it was written kind of like a joke but we didn't play it that way. I started crying and that came out of nowhere, I hadn't planned it that way, and Howie just sort of sweetly came over and put a blanket around me, and the music under it was wonderful... I remember somebody gave us an award for that scene - some group that horored sensitvity toward nudity on television. (It) was a sweet scene."

Sweet or not, though, Fiscus was known for his hijinks and hormones. We recently asked Howie Mandel about his image as a romantic lead.

ON CALL ... People magazine once voted Mark Harmon the "Sexiest Man Alive", yet your character, Fiscus, was the most sexually active IN the actual hospital.

Morgue mates - Whinnery, Mandel
HOWIE MANDEL ... "Mark was the Sexiest Man Alive, and I was the Horniest Man Alive!"

No argument there! During the show's six year run, Fiscus was involved with a number of beautiful women. The most memorable was with Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery), who spent most of her time performing autopsies. She also "performed" with Fiscus in the morgue (episode #2, "Bypass") and in many other exotic hospital locales. Their relationship cooled midway through season one, then rekindled later in the series.

In a comic twist of fate, Fiscus moves in with Ehrlich, who is scheduled to go on a date with Nurse Shirley Daniels (episode #17, "Brothers"). Ehrlich is called away and asks Wayne to sub for him. Fiscus and Daniels hit it off and being dating. After a while Shirley grows weary of Wayne's sense of humor and the romance fades. It also didn't help that while Fiscus and Daniels were still an item (episode #22, "Addiction"), Cathy Martin decided to seduce Wayne one more time, causing him to return to Shirley smelling of formaldehyde. By the way, on their first date, Shirley tells Fiscus that he reminds her of her old boyfriend in high school, Andy Kuzek, whose father ran a funeral parlor out of their house. She used to party in the casket room. At any rate, whether morbid foreshadowing or not, the pattern of "one more for the road" haunted Fiscus. Later in the series when Shirley (Ellen Bry Masius) returned as a convicted murderess needing medical attention (episode #112), she seduced Wayne in her hosptial room.

ELLEN BRY MASIUS ... "I don't know if Shirley seduced him the first time, I think it was the other way around. It was mutual, we had a whole relationship thing going."

Shirley plants one on Fiscus
ON CALL .. Of course Shirley was a murderess when she seduced Fiscus the second time.

ELLEN BRY MASIUS ... "Well, the SECOND TIME..." (laughs)

ON CALL ... You're frightening when you do the murder thing.

ELLEN BRY MASIUS ... "Yeah, I do crazy well" (laughs).

In season four, Wayne is attracted to Nurse Mona (Leah Ayres) and even duscusses wedding plans (episode #82, "Family Ties"), but in yet another twist of romance, Morrison's girlfriend, Clancy (played by Helen Hunt) falls for Wayne (episode #83, "Family Feud") and Mona falls for Jack. In episode #84, Wayne and Clancy ponder the risks of their risy lovemaking, and that relationship soon fades.

"CALLING DR. LOGAN"

Truly, Jack Morrison (David Morse) played the field as the series progressed, but he was always a devoted husband or lover, and never pushed his good looks or boyish charm on anyone. When St. Elsewhere began, Morrison is married to Nina, the love of his life. She gives birth to their only son on the final episode of Season ONe and all is well for the all-American couple. But in a tragic twist (reminiscent of the Westphall flashback we would later see in "Time Heals") Nina is involved in an accident and dies (episode #25). In a poignant moment, though, Nina's heart is transplanted into patient Eve Lieghton and the scene ends with Morrison listening to his wife's heart beating in another woman's chest.

After a proper period of mourning, Jack starts to date again and falls for a coed named Clancy. As the second season ends, Jack and Clancy sleep together for the first time (episode #44, "Hello Goodbye"), and it is Jack's first sexual encounter since Nina's death. As the third season opens (episode #45, "Playing God (part 1), Clancy is pregnant. Morrison wants to have the child, but Clancy opts for an abortion. Then, as was referenced earlier, Clancy falls for Fiscus and Nurse Mona is attracted to Jack. Later in the series Jack falls in love with and marries Joanne (Patricia Wettig), an old flame who now has kids of her own. They struggle to stay together through financial difficulties, her ex-husband's attempts to get custody, and Jack's horrific rape at the hands of a prison convict who he is treating. The odds are overwhelming, and she leaves Boston (episode #123, "Heart On") to return to Seattle.

In the last season, Morrison gets involved with Carol Novino who hopes for a long term relationship. But in the season finale, Jack tells her he is going to try and reconcile with Joanne.

"A 'STRIKING' COUPLE"

Like Jack, there were other folks at St. Eligius who believed in the institution of marriage. Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) believed in it so much that she challenged Elizabeth Taylor for the record, and Helen had the emotional scars and children to prove it.

When the series begins, she is on her fourth husband. (In real life, Christina was then married to Victor Lobl, who directed several episodes of St. Elsewhere.) By the thrid season, Helen's marriage was all but over, and so she falls for Strike Mediator Richard Clarendon (episode #49, "Breathless"), with whom she has an affair and later marries. Clarendon was played by Christina's real life soul mate, Herb Edelman, whom she met during filming (as was reported in ON CALL, Volume Two, Number 2).

Christina, daughter Rebecca, Herb
CHRISTINA PICKLES ... "It was love at first sight. The first time Herb saw me, I was trying to park my car, but there was a lot of stuff blocking my space, and I was swearing. Herb asked 'Does this always happen to you?' (laughs). He was a sweet, dear, funny man."

Toward the end of the fourth season (episode #91, "The Equalizer") Helen's first husband (played by Dick Shawn) pays a visit, complicating her relationship with Richard. As the series wound down and Helen fought her addiction, Richard stayed by her side. In real life, Christina stayed by Herb's side until a prolonged illness took his life in 1996. Of course, Christina and Herb weren't the only couple who were involved both on-screen and behind the scenes.

"MARK AND ELLEN, AND BILL AND BONNIE"

Bill and Bonnie Daniels have been married since 1951. As Mark and Ellen Craig they joined Christina and Herb as the show's only on-screen regulars who were together off-screen as well. The Daniels raised two sons, the Craigs raised one. On the show, Mark strays just once (episode #20, "Craig In Love") when he has an affair with visiting Hungarian doctor Vera Anya. (Cathy Martin made a play for him in episode #29, but nothing happened.) Ellen, feeling that Mark has a sexual problem (among other things) demands that they attend counseling. During one of the sessions (episode #44, "Hello Goodbye"), Mark admits to the fling with Anya, and their marriage starts down a long road of one conflict after another until, at the end of season five, Ellen asks for a divorce (episode #115, "Last Dance at the Wrecker's Ball") and they separate.

Consummating professionals Bonnie B.,
Billy D.
During the separation Mark remains faithful to Ellen, however, he does invite Dr. Wade (Sagan Lewis) to accompany him to a black tie dinner, and, later, to go ice skating with him (episode #128, "Heaven's Skate"). The potential for romance was there, but, wisely, the writers refrained. In season six, Dr. John Gideon (Ronny Cox) comes aboard as the new CEO of St. Eligius, and it doesn't take him long to pursue Ellen. Ellen eventually calls a halt to the relationship, but not until the two share a steamy bedroom scene (episode #123, "Heart On") which is artistically edited by crosscutting the lovemaking with scenes of Mark implanting an artificial heart into a patient. The brief fling between Ellen and Gideon drew a lot of criticism at the time.

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS (Ellen Craig) ... "My boys hated that, and when I had that affair, they were HORRIFIED! And Bill was really annoyed by it, he really didn't like it at all."

ON CALL once told John Tinker that he was actually hated for writing the affair scenario.

JOHN TINKER (Writer/Producer, St. Elsewhere, Executive Producer, Chicago Hope) ... "In retrospect, I hate me too, and I think that's because it was a mistake ... I just wanted Mark and Ellen to be together, I think they loved each other and understood each other."

But unlike the Craigs, who always seemed out of sync with each others' needs, Bill and Bonnie are a loving, comfortable, simpatico pair. Still, we learned a lot watching Mark and Ellen move toward reconciliation, and in that regard, the ups and downs became validations (and warnings) to all of us who have ever tried to make a long-term relationship work.

"DANIEL AND DONALD"

Though we didn't see the Auschlanders together as much as we did the Craigs, it was evident that Daniel and Catherine (played by Jane Wyatt) were very much in love, and very supportive of one another. Still, in episode #37, "Attack", we learn that Daniel once sowed his wild oats with a woman who later turns up at St. Eligius as a patient.

We also learn in episode #108, "Jose, Can You See?", that some of his oats were fertilized along the way. It seems that Daniel had an illegitimate son who, now a mature adult, shows up at St. Eligius just to introduce himself, then disappear without a desire for pursuing a father/son relationship.

NORMAN LLOYD (Dr. Daniel Auschlander) ... "Oh yes, well, it wasn't Auschlander who was immoral. It was the writers! Tom Fontana is the most immoral man I ever knew (laughs). You tell him I said that." (laughs)

Daniel and Catherine also helped to bridge the romance gap by serving as witnesses to Physican Assistant Luther Hawkins' (Eric Laneuville) wedding (episode #135, "Split Decision") to the hospital AV Director (played by Clueless star Stacey Dash).

"Clueless couples"
Laneuville, Dash, Lloyd, Wyatt
And St. Elsewhere became the first (and perhaps only) drama to deal with sex and romance in an intelligent manner among divergent age groups simultaneously. That is, showing viewers that sparks can fly and endure between people from age 20 to age 70. In the series, Daniel Auschlander, a man in his seventies, is married to a woman his own age. In one episode, he also has a scene with an old flame (played by Geraldine Fitzgerald) who is also a senior citizen.

NORMAN LLOYD ... "I had Jane as my spouse, and Geraldine as a former girlfriend. As the years went on, (Geraldine) retained her spark. It was an attitude. One of the great moments in St. Elsewhere was when Jane asks me if I still love her, when we were outside the hospital one evening. And that was a very romantic moment. She was so beautiful to look at. So I say if you have the people, you write for them, if the writers are romantically inclined. Today, most television writers are satirically inclined, and their stuff becomes camp, or mocks relationships. We took them seriously, because the two women (in my case) were romantic figures."

Sometimes the sparks also flew in "May/December" romances, which was the case with Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) and Nurse turned Resident, Carol Novino (Cindy Pickett). We knew from the outset of the series that Donald was a widower, but it wasn't until the fifth season, ("Time Heals") that we actually saw his wife Maureen (played by Anita Gillette).

Between the time the series begins and the time Donald falls for Carol, he flirted with romance a couple of times. In episode #35 Ehrlich's crazy Aunt Charice puts the moves on Westphall, but Donald resists. Then, toward the end of Season Three (episode #63, "Red, White, Black, and Blue") Donald strikes up a renewed (but not re-consummated) relationship with a long time friend and White House doctor (played by Betty White). The fling with Novino gave us our only glimpse of Westphall in bed with a woman, and there seemed to be legitimate chemistry between the two. But Donald breaks off the relationship when, after having gone shopping for a new mattress, he realizes how much he still misses his late wife.

Flanders sacks Pickett
For Donald, it was his last romance of the series, but not so for Novino. As was referenced earlier, Carol became attracted to Jack after his wife left him. But in between Donald and Jack, Novino took up with Elliott's cousin Pee Wee, the used car salesman. There was never any visual indication of a roll in the hay, or on the showroom floor for that matter.

"FOUR 'DEGREES' (M.D.'S) OF SEPARATION"

Then there's poor Elliott. In season three he develops a major crush on Helen's daughter Marcie, who, like Axelrod, loves to eat. She eventually aways to Europe and marries a Swissman, only to return to St. Elsewhere later in the series, quite rotund from eating too much chocolate. The only other spell under which Elliott fell was for an animal researcher who shows up in season four (episode #82, "Family Ties"), but nothing develops.

Romantic tug of war - Denzel, Alfre
Also star crossed and destined to be apart were Drs. Roxanne Turner (Alfre Woodard) and Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington). Despite their physical attraction to each other (and yes, they had sexual relations), their career goals were somewhat divergent, explaining why Turner was willing to pick up and leave Boston (episode #76) instead of going on a scheduled vacation with Philip. She decided to return to her poverty stricken hometown where folks were in dire need of competent medical care. As the series ends, we want to assume that Chandler and Turner find happiness together, but last year in a guest spot on Homicide, Roxanne made no mention of Philip. Perhaps they are still worlds apart.

Dr. Paulette Kiem (France Nuyen), though a devoted wife, was also plagued by geographical separation. Her husband (played by The Addams Family's John Astin) showed up once for a visit, but we could glean that their relationship was strained by long distance, with him in Washington and her in Boston for what she believed was going to be a temporary assignment.

"DANGEROUS LIAISONS"

Dr. Cathy Martin, on the other hand, didn't let geography, psychology, religion, or ANYTHING stand in the way of good sex. In addition to her relationship with Wayne, she also seduced Dr. Michael Ridley, a psychiatrist (played by Paul Sand) in episode #33**. Also, having learned that Dr. V.J. Kochar was about to get married and was still a virgin, she took it upon herself to give him "experience" (episode #25). One sexual experience Cathy could have done without, however, was her rape at the hands of Peter White (Terence Knox).

Playing doctor (and nurse)
Knox, Kaczmarek
Though married to a wonderful woman (played by Karen Landry), Dr. White was driven to frustration and rage, by just about everybody and everything. He was always broke and the family suffered because of it. He was insanely jealous and after his wife made him move out, he began dating and having sex with a nurse, played by Jane Kaczmarek (episode #11, "Graveyard"). In episode #15, Peter pays for his wife's abortion, even though he knows the baby is not his. He develops a drug habit, is convicted of reckless driving, and (in season two, episode #29, "Entrapment") he helps an indigent woman who turns out to be an undercover cop, and suddenly he is facing drug charges. The rapes begin midway through season two, and Peter is the chief suspect. His wearing a ski mask clouds the case in court, and he gets off. Female staffers are enraged but only Nurse Daniels takes the law into her own hands. After luring White down to the morgue she shoots him (episode #51, "Fade to White").***

"JOHN BOY AND ELLEN"

On-screen, Ellen Bry Masius was a sexy, murdering vixen. Off-camera she was the wife of Emmy-winning St. Elsewhere Writer/Producer John Masius (Creator of Touched By an Angel and Providence). She and John have three children and today, Ellen is a full time mother and a part time actress. (Many of you have seen her on Chicago Hope as Nurse Joan Kramer). During St. Elsewhere, Masius and Masius made a good team, but they were careful not to exploit their relationship.

Divine Providence - Masius, Bry
ELLEN BRY MASIUS ... "It honestly worked against us. It gets very touchy and difficult when people are romantically involved and working together."

ON CALL ... In what way?

ELLEN BRY MASIUS ... "Well, at first, John didn't have the power and control to decide what the story line was, and who's getting written for. But people look at it and think it's all nepotism and playing favorites. And so, if anything, John went overboard the other way. He wasn't trying to push me as a leading character - if anything it would have to be up to other people to come up with story lines for me, because it's a fine line. You want to have this relationship, and then again, you don't want to show a whole lot of favoritism, because it becomes very out of balance."

ON CALL ... At any point later on did you have input into John's scripts?

ELLEN BRY MASIUS ... "I would make comments periodically, but I didn't try to better my lines of increase the size of my part. You can't do that, it's not kosher. And also, John is very sensitive to it. It was much easier for me to comment on and talk about ideas for other people's story lines. With my character it's much too self-serving, especially when you have a romantic involvement with someone - it's not very attractive and not appropriate."

"TOM AND SAGAN"

Lewis, Fontana
Meanwhile, Masius' writing partner Tom Fontana was married to Sagan Lewis who played Dr. Jackie Wade. Sagan often helped Tom edit scripts (see ON CALL, Volume Two, Number 2) and even once successfully argued for removing a scene between Westphall and his daughter Lizzie (Dana Short).

SAGAN LEWIS ... "After she had had an abortion, they had a scene in the script where Westphall goes in after the operation and gives her an exam, and I said 'No way. You can't have a father/daughter like this.' And Tom was really senstivie and said, OK' and they cut that. They were going for the love between a father and daughter, and I said no, in this instance, the love would be to protect her privacy."

Of course, if Bruce Paltrow had had his way, Lizzie might not have gotten pregnant in the first place.

Unsafe sex - Short, Greenwood
BRUCE PALTROW (from Museum Television & Radio, 1993) ... "Actually we did a thing with Cindy (Pickett). I guess this was about 1985 where Cindy's character was having a conversation with Lizzie Westphall about birth control. And Standards and Practices at NBC did not want us to say the word 'condom' in 1985."

Lizzie's sexual encounter with Dr. Seth Griffin (episode #107, "Getting Ahead") was her only on-screen romance****, but for Seth (played by Bruce Greenwood) there were other conquests, both shown and implied. On one occasion he beds Jackie Wade (episode #112, "Women Unchained"), and during the last season he has tested positive for HIV. He gets good news in the last episode.

"LUCY AND VICTOR"

Of all the on-screen couples, Lucy and Victor traveled the farthest to get where they wanted to be, and we enjoyed the journey. At first, the two blondes fought like redheads, and their getting romantically involved seemed about as plausible as Craig being polite to Dr. Kiem. Of course, in the early going, Victor was otherwise engaged in one relationship or another, none of which worked out. As was referenced before, he tried to date Nurse Daniels, but duty called, and his substitute (Fiscus) tickled Shirley's fancy.

Honeymoon over - Scott, Begley
By episode #30 Victor starts dating his future wife Roberta (Jean Bruce Scott) and soon they are married, although the ceremony was a gastrodisaster. Actual vows had to be administered in the hospital ER because most of the wedding party was stricken with food poisoning at the reception. The marriage itself wasn't much healthier. In episode #37 Roberta's criticism of Victor's honeymoon skills is accidentally broadcast over the hospital P.A., and an announcement of divorce wasn't far behind.

In episode #38, "After Dark", Ehrlich treats a patient (played by Sharon Burr) who finds the tall guy irresistible, and in episode #49, "Breathless", he is smitten with a dietician (Heather McNair) who shows up at his door. Too bad she didn't show up at the wedding reception.

Destined to be the ever single class clown, Victor was an unlikely candidate for Lucy's affections, but the groundwork was laid when in episode #95 ("A Room With a View"), Lucy invites Victor to her grandmother's birthday party. Lucy begins to see a different side to Ehrlich, who, by this point in season five, has matured a great deal from his early days as a resident. In episode #110, "You Again", they give way to their passion and make love for the first time.

JOHN MASIUS (from Museum of Television 1993) ... "Basically what happened was there needed to be chemistry on the screen. Actors elevated the writing. That inspired us to develop relationships more, and go in different directions."

Hospital heart throbs - Savidge, Begley
ED BEGLEY (Dr. Victor Ehrlich) ... "What he's saying is, since Jennifer was already granting me sexual favors." (laughter)

JENNIFER SAVDIGE (Lucy Papandrao) ... "In your dreams, Begley!" (laughter, applause)

After a long, romantic vacation together, Lucy and Victor let everyone speculate as to whether or not they got married (episode #112, "Women Unchained") but, in fact, they waited until early on in season six. By episode #127, "Final Cut", Lucy is pregnant. Unfortunately she develops complications and suffers a miscarriage, prompting a very poignant scene between the couple as they lay in bed pondering what their future might have been as parents.

Again, both characters matured greatly over the course of the series, and we grew with them. Once they found each other, they stayed in sync. No nasty arguments, no cheating, no psychotherapy, and no avoidance of responsibilities.

"A FAMILY SHOW"

Though they only appeared on two episodes, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows are considered part of the St. Elsewhere family because of their pivotal role in the life of Dr. Victor Ehrlich. Of course, Steve and Jayne's on-screen chemistry is great because their off-screen relationship is just as electric. They are comfortable working together and living together, and not too many couples can say that about their relationship. In fact, most people try and avoid working with their spouse or other family members. Again, though, MTM and the St. Elsewhere studio was a great place for nurturing relationships, whether of a romantic or professional nature. Suzie Sax and Howie Horowitz were married then and are still married today, and while you never saw them, their contributions were appreciated - hers as a stand-in, and his as a Second Assistant Director.

Technical Advisor Barbara Krause, RN was and is married to Buzzy Joachin, who worked as a grip. Director of Photography Marvin Gunter "shot" his wife, Betty, many times while she was an extra on St. Elsewhere. And, real life husband and wife John McIntyre and Jeanette Nolan appeared once as an elderly couple.

Meanwhile, in the tradition of fellow writers, who both married St. Elsewhere actresses, Writer/Producer Channing Gibson romanced wife Shelly who once appeared as a Hospital Chaplain.

Academy Award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow always hoped her Dad would let her do a cameo on St. Elsewhere, but the part never materialized. However, Bruce did direct his wife Blythe in episode #41, "The Women". One way or the other, it seemed that everyone was part of the family at St. Elsewhere.

SAGAN LEWIS ... "I think a lot of that is Bruce. I can remember one day Bruce made a comment like 'You're family now'. I remember when Victor Lobl and Christina Pickles were married, and Victor directed some of the early episodes. I just think when Bruce meets people, and, like people, he's very open about extending himself to people's loved ones that have talent. I don't think Bruce ever hired anybody that he didn't think was talented, but I just think he does carry a sense of family with him in a wonderful way. I was always amazed at home thoughtful Bruce was at bringing people in. But he was also the kind of guy that if he auditioned someone and didn't like them, or didn't like the reading, he wouldn't hire them just because they were related to somebody. You had to earn the work."

And so, through all of the hijinks, tragedy, and dysfunction (both in and out of the hospital), nearly all of the St. Eligius staff found love and romance. Some, of course, like Luther, found it with one mate on the first try. Others like Daniel had to endure the scourge of war and his own dalliances before he met his soul mate. Mark and Ellen took six years to rediscover their love, and Donald spent the same amount of time realizing he had already found it, but preferred to preserve memories rather than pursue new passions.

We wonder about Fiscus, Chandler, Wade, and Novino and wish them well as they keep searching. And we're proud of Jacl for being responsible, and of Helen and Richard for being supportive through difficult times. Seth we still don't trust, Samuels we don't think about. Shirley is probably still in prison, and hopefully, Paulette Kiem is spending more time with "Gomez". Cavanero, like her alter ego Cyntia Sikes, is probably a Super Mom and wife today, and Lucy and Victor probably have a house full of blonde-headed kids.

In real life, the off-screen romances of our St. Elsewhere family have met with mixed results, but even those who are now separated or divorced remain friends, and that says something about the kind of people who gave us such a special television program. Because of their work, we learned a lot about love, sex, romance, sorrow, and relationships in general.

Name one TV show where, in any one given episode, romantic sparks are flying between regular cast members in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, and 70's. (And where that romance is an integral part of the story.) You can't do it, because one doesn't exist. Today, TV shows are mostly youth-oriented, where adults merely provide window dressing - often bound by their one dimensional, demographics-driven quirks. At St. Elsewhere, though, love knew no boundaries, and for that, we thank the many couples, both on-screen and off, who created realistic images and communicated meaningful messages from which we learned so much.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

* That happens in the Pilot episode.

** I've seen this in episode descriptions, but I've never seen this story line in any syndicated broadcast. Donna Lemaster's episode guide said the same thing in an amendment--never saw this one, but found it in episode guides. It's possible it was cut for time in syndication. I'd love to see that bit if it existed.

*** That happens in "My Aim Is True".

**** Actually, Lizzie comes home from college in season three with a boyfriend, Rick (Casey Siemaszko), and she tells her father that they have sex.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, I didn't know that about Cynthia Sikes leaving. I'd never heard a specific reason for her departure from the show before. Was that in the series itself where they say Cavanero took a job at Birney Memorial? I was under the impression her character's departure was never addressed, like Samuels and Beale (until the finale, where I've read all three characters are referenced by Fiscus, though I don't remember that part).

    As for Cathy Martin seducing Ridley in the elevator, I remember Donna's episode guide saying it wasn't in the broadcast version. I always figured her episode descriptions were derived from the original NBC episodes, not the edited-for-syndication versions. It might be one of those plots that was cut at the last minute but made its way into the official synopsis released for publications like TV Guide. I remember "Oz" had a similar issue where a recurring character was killed off by Amy Madigan in a special guest appearance, and it's in all the official episode descriptions, but it's nowhere to be found in the episode itself. Amy Madigan never actually shows up at any point on the series, and the character she was supposed to kill is just never mentioned again. Maybe Tom Fontana likes to make up cool stories and then get rid of them at the last minute just to confuse us.

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  2. You're right about Sikes--like Samuels and Beale, Cavanero is just gone from one episode to the next. The funny bit the writers did (the "Birney Memorial" comment was an inside joke, never used on the show) was to make Sikes' final appearance a carbon copy of Birney's--she sneezes into her sleeve, someone asks her why the sleeve, and she mentions that it doesn't spread germs that way, and that's the last you see of her.

    In the last episode, Fiscus mentions doctors who he'd worked with and were now departed, "one way or another", and the list includes Cavanero and Samuels.

    Yes, I figure the Martin-Ridley bit was part of the four minutes that got cut for syndication. I would have liked to see that--I enjoyed Dr. Ridley.

    Paul Sand is another one of those actors where I'm curious about the circumstances around his departure, especially since he gets so much screen time in season two. But basically, if an actor complained about their character or didn't get along with the producers, they were gone. That was the case with Birney, Sikes, Bailey and Harmon. Probably Sand, too!

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    1. I remember Cavanero’s final scene mimicking David Birney’s. She’s at the nurses station and it’s implied she’s coming down with a cold, and then she vanishes forever. I always loved the idea that there was this mysterious cold traveling around St. Eligius, causing the doctors to disappear. It’s a shame they didn’t work in a scene where Beale caught it from Samuels.

      I only JUST saw the part where Fiscus mentions Samuels and Cavanero in “The Last One.” I had always heard there was a callback to some of the missing doctors in the finale, but no version of the episode I saw ever referenced them. I think I’ve only seen the syndicated edit, but I finally saw this moment in the “Returning to St. Eligius” print/video essay. I’m really glad Edward Copeland included that clip. When I first saw the finale I was eagerly waiting for Fiscus to mention those characters and was confused when it didn’t happen. Same thing with the fourth season finale. Cathy’s brief reappearance is missing in the syndicated version. I hate the syndication edits because it means there are still so many moments from the series I’ve actually never seen before, one more reason why this whole show needs to be on DVD yesterday.

      Speaking of the syndication edits, I believe Donna’s episode guide was actually saying that the scene with Cathy and Ridley in the elevator is actually not in any version of that particular episode, not just syndicated but even the original network version. If I remember correctly, she said the scene was mentioned in the TV Guide description but never actually happens onscreen. I think it was cut from the NBC broadcast version at the last minute. It’s possible Donna did base her episode guide on the syndicated versions but I was always under the impression she had watched the series on NBC as it originally aired. She seems to have been the #1 ST. ELSEWHERE fan.

      As for actors leaving, there’s always a million reasons why, so we can only speculate. We know G.W. Bailey didn’t enjoy working with Bruce Paltrow. Sounds like Sikes and the producers really had a falling out. As for David Birney, another reason why he supposedly left is that he was expecting his role on the series to be bigger, but it became more of an ensemble piece so pursued other roles. Mark Harmon was the hunk of the show so it’s likely he was receiving a lot of other TV/movie offers. But there was probably a confluence of reasons why each actor left. I always really liked Dr. Ridley and was surprised Paul Sand never joined the main cast, but on the other hand there already seemed to be too many people in the regular cast for season two. I guess we’ll never know.

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    2. Re: Mark Harmon... The People Magazine article linked from this post -- http://www.stelsewhereweb.com/2012/06/mark-harmon-sexiest-man-alive-1986.html -- explains what happened with him--he asked the writers to "get excited about his character".

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